Its been around almost forever, and often gets overlooked in fine dining discussions. But Ive had some memorable meals there in the past so it was time to try it once again for a special occasion. There have been a succession of chefs over the years (including Patrick Lin twice) so quality has varied. And Im pleased to report that its back on track. An excellent meal, possibly the best Ive been served in Toronto this year and that with a new chef whos only been there for a couple of weeks.
As usual, the service was impeccable easily the best anywhere in Toronto. Which prompts the question of why this level seems never to be approached anywhere else in Toronto, even in the so-called top restaurants where youll certainly spend more than here.
The menu changes seasonally and the Fall menu started a couple of weeks ago designed by the former chef. The tasting menu ($85) looked good, so we ordered that. We did ask for a substitution for one of the courses no problem; we were even invited to check the menu for any other course we might prefer. This is also offered with accompanying wines for $120, so the budget isnt stretched too far (for this quality).
An amuse of tuna tartare, served in a cucumber shell with a tomato water cream was served a little too cold, but otherwise tasty.
The first real course was spectacular Savarin of Dungeness Crab and Cured Tomatoes (served with a 2001 Sauvignon Blanc from Willow Bridge, Western Australia). Anytime I see crab on a menu I get nervous. The fake crab (Pollock) is so prevalent now that its hard to find the real stuff. I think Dungeness crab has consistently been the most flavourful of the available varieties. Unfortunately its colour is sort of grey, so its not the most attractive dish. Here, wrapped in the cured tomato and formed into a savarin (circle) you really dont see the crab. The pistachio and truffle dressing gives both aroma and a slight crunch to the dish. Then theres the chewiness of the tomato and the fibrous crab giving multi textures and excellent flavours. This is one of my favourite dishes so far this year. The wine was a fairly good match. Australian SB tastes riper than New Zealand more lime than grass. And when I emptied my glass, it was topped up.
The next course was Potato Crusted Halibut with Scallop Agnolotti, Braised Fennel and Oyster Velouté (served with 2000 Cuvaison Chardonnay Napa). Perfectly cooked fish that flaked to the touch. The potato crust was browned slightly and crisp, adding both colour and texture. The velouté contained several poached oysters and the agnolotti were fine and tasty. The wine was a little clumsy for this dish. Good, but not as exciting as the first course.
The main was Braised Poussin with Pancetta, Fondant Potato and Autumn Vegetables (served with 2001 Fetzer Pinot Noir from California). Another stunning dish. Included was a good serving of morels, which lifted this dish immensely. The leg had been deboned, stuffed and braised (in red wine) longer than the breast, then sliced in rings. The veggies added colour and texture and the earthiness of the whole dish was made-to-measure for pinot noir. But not this wine which was too sweet (for me but I always find Fetzer too sweet). This dish demanded a Burgundy but no way at those prices it would have added another $20 at least to the price. Oh well, we can but dream.
On to the pre-dessert course. Brie de Meaux with Baked Lady Apples with Black Peppercorns and Brandy (served with 2001 Shiraz Succession from Xanadu, Western Australia). Full marks for effort here. A great concept to have a cheese and fruit course, which is rarely seen in Toronto. Chowspouse and I split on this. She loved it, especially the peppered apple. I had reservations about the temperature. The dish was warm but not hot, which makes perfect sense if the brie is to hold its shape, and was presumably intended. The ingredients were perfectly fresh, but it just didnt zing for me. The baked apple was also perfectly cooked but I thought that a crisper apple would have added texture. However, the peppercorns did zing. Also, the wine, surprisingly, was a great match. Brie and Shiraz not a combination Id have risked.
Finally, dessert. The included choice was a Warm Fig Galette with Rosemary Semolina Ice Cream. The consistency of cooked figs reminds me too much of fig newtons, so this was OK but not really memorable. We could have had any of the regular desserts instead, so take your pick. They even have dessert Soufflés (see my ancient post lamenting I couldnt find these anywhere in Toronto, so bonus marks for having this).
Overall, a meal comparable with the so-called best of Toronto and service easily the best. This should be a serious consideration for anyone wanting a reliable special occasion evening. Its not trendy, the room is somewhat elegant, but the food and service are top class.